A Child Is Born


Shoppers crowd into booths, shiny bags clustered at their feet.
A tree is lit, a small crèche tastefully arranged by our table.
We're three old friends, eating lunch, drinking decent merlot.

Between us, we've raised seven children. Our job was easy
back then--a pity we couldn't appreciate it, exhausted
and fighting with our husbands.

Now our kids are adrift across the globe
and we're counting the ways in which they are not happy:
One is etching the skin of her inner arm, a cuneiform

no one can read. One's lain in bed for months, spooning cold cereal.
The youngest, who was never any trouble, swallowed Ecstasy
and climbed out on the balcony, his arms raised to the lashing rain.

I've walked the city alone, at a desperate speed,
all day and into the dark because I could not hold
the two child, suicidal.

But here we are, eating sweet crepes, laughing even.
My friend turns to the ceramic figures gathered in the open stable,
picks up the tiny baby Jesus from his lump of straw.

"It's the whole a-child-is-born thing," she says
"We think he's going to save us,
but he's headed for the cross."

- Ellen Bass

Winter Heart


Winter again, and I'm glad that the seasons
keep coming around and around.
I am glad that the heart, too, is seasonal,
that it loses its leaves in November,
holds trembling hands to the sky;
that it freezes and thaws and freezes,
running with water in autumn,
singing with birds in the spring.

It is ready now for darkness
and a night-sky splintered with stars,
for winds, wuthering its stony ramparts,
for fires in the halls within.

- Kerry Hardie

Happy National Cat Day


I wasn't even aware this holiday existed! My sister Jenny sent me a sweet text about it this morning. But I say, live every day like it's National Cat Day.

In honor of my cats, I'm going to re-post the poem 'October Cats.' And it won't be for the last time. This poem sums Oz and Norm up so perfectly, I'm going to keep posting it until I have it memorized, and so do you.

October Cats

One is the color of graham crackers and milk;
cornbread with butter and honey;
a stack of pancakes drenched with maple syrup;
peaches and cream (is anybody hungry?).
The other's tiger markings, gray and white,
are lit like alabaster from within,
foxy, rosy, ruddy; dusky blush.
Who would have thought we were so famished for
the tawny, the caressable? No longer
now splayed out along the floor for coolness,
they reconfigure for the coming season
into shapes of meatloaf, tugboat, owl.

by Rachel Hadas

#174: Close To You by The Carpenters


Close To You by The Carpenters (1970)

Favorite Tracks: "We've Only Just Begun" and "Reason to Believe" and "(They Long To Be) Close To You" and "I'll Never Fall in Love Again"

Thoughts: Oh man, so many feelings about the Carpenters. They're one of those artists/bands that I became obsessive about without even (or in addition to) memorizing their discography; other examples being Fleetwood Mac, Michael Jackson, John Denver, Barbra Streisand, Joni Mitchell, etc. I might not know each and every song, but I have taken it upon myself to not just be their fan, but their advocate.

Let me be clear: I'm a big fan/advocate of Karen. I'm not sure if I was raised to think that Richard is a bit of an arrogant jerk, or if I learned that later when investigating into Karen's life on my own. I certainly grew up with The Carpenters playing on our family's stereo. I can't remember if it was my mom or dad or someone else, but I remember being told that Karen Carpenter's voice was the greatest in pop music (Paul McCartney said she had "the greatest female voice in the world"), and that was always followed by a comment on the great tragedy of her untimely and potentially preventable death at the age of 32, 30 years ago.

(Before I go any further (if you're even still with me at this point), this is going to be one of those posts that are focused less on the particular album and more on my relationship/interest in the artist--particularly because I'm afraid this is the only Carpenters album on the list. You've been warned!)

In college I read a book (I can't remember which--probably one of the many about women and eating disorders I began devouring--unforgiveable pun, I'm sorry) that referenced Todd Haynes' 1987 short film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story. I couldn't find it on DVD because in 1989 Richard issued a "cease and desist" order on the film (supposedly for music rights reasons) despite Hayne's offer to exclusively show the movie in clinics and schools with all proceeds going to the Karen Carpenter Memorial Fund for Anorexia Research (now called The Carpenter Foundation).

So, to YouTube, where all great out-of-print videos live on. I recommend watching it, but be forewarned: it's not for everyone. Instead of actors Haynes used barbie dolls on set-to-scale handmade sets, and the opening is a pretty traumatic dramatization of Karen's mother finding her body. It's definitely unsettling and frequently jarring.

I believe my ingrained distrust and dislike of Richard Carpenter has to do with the image (however true or untrue) that he was jealous and possessive of Karen's obvious shining talent, and called every shot in their musical career. To say the Carpenters would still be The Carpenters without Richard is untrue, but if Karen had spent more time in charge of her own career (and life), who knows how bright her single spotlight in the history of music would have been? She did have one solo album she got to record only because it was done in 1979/1980 when Richard was being treated for his Quaalude addiction--which were introduced to him by their mother Agnes as a sleep aid). It was shelved in 1981 due to claims by the label and Richard that it wasn't good enough to release. Karen was heartbroken, and the album had cost $400k of her own money to produce. It wasn't released until 1996, 13 years after her death.

But no matter how different Richard might be than I perceive him: humble instead of proud, nurturing instead of controlling, selfless instead of self-obsessed, I can't help but joke with my family when any of his singing is featured on its own in a Carpenters song. "Stop, stop! Just let Karen sing!" I mean, for Pete's sake, he released an album in 1998 called Richard Carpenter: Pianist, Arranger, Composer, Conductor. Is he good at those things? Yes. But the need to list them together feels like a desperate cry for recognition. And notice he didn't put 'singer' in that list, and yet his solo singing is featured on waaaay too many Carpenters tracks (sometimes almost exclusively!). I mean, sure his voice is very white bread and not wholly unpleasant, but when it's the first voice you hear after Karen, it sounds even less compelling (which should be impossible). Also in 2003 an album was released of just Carpenters songs written by Richard, cunningly titled Carpenters Perform Carpenter, I'm sure with Richard's blessing (if not persistence and complete control). Check out this album cover:

Yeah... Was that really OK'd by Richard and the label? If so, for the LOVE OF GOD. They couldn't have just found a Carpenters photo with Richard at the foreground, or sitting at the piano? Like this or this or this? Or at the very least make the Carpenters photo bigger than the one of Richard GIANT FACE? I digress.

Now if God had made John Denver Karen's musical partner, I would have been in total love with both of them singing:

But to be fair, from Superstar and other sources, it's hard to place all blame on Richard, when it seems their manipulative and controlling mother was a major factor in the singer's personal struggles. The 1989 made-for-TV-movie The Karen Carpenter Story (also on YouTube) was executive produced by Richard, and according to the actors who played the siblings, he daily rewrote or removed scenes and tried to make the portrayal of his mother Agnes appear less villainous. Both actors reported that the final movie is a white-washed, watered down version of Karen's life, and misses important aspects of her story. Creepy stories from the set include Richard wanting Cynthia Gibb (Karen) to lose enough weight to wear Karen's real clothes! Apparently he made the filming process a nightmare.

But even with Richard's involvement trying to 'soften' the truth about Karen's life, it's still painfully obvious in the movie that Agnes preferred her son to her daughter, and that he did nothing to discourage it (though maybe he kept his less-than-flattering features in the film out of guilt?). In his 1996 article journalist Rob Hoerburger summed up Karen's relationship with these two family members:
"If anorexia has classically been defined as a young woman's struggle for control, then Karen was a prime candidate, for the two things she valued most in the world--her voice and her mother's love--were exclusively the property of her brother Richard. At least she could control the size of her own body." 
Something that I was surprised to learn about Karen when I was young was that her first love was playing the drums. I think it shocked me because I never pictured 60s/70s songstresses playing drums, much less dainty looking ones like Karen. I myself tried to take up the drums in 6th grade through to junior high, but I never got the knack of it, despite classes and private lessons. Here's the drum set my parents got me (they're awesome) that I would practice on:

I also relate to Karen in my own self-image struggles--albeit much less severe and not under public scrutiny--with disordered eating and disordered thinking about food, particularly in my youth. Through independence, decent therapy, and lots of feminist role models in my life and in books, I've had the opportunity to maintain a healthier view of food and my relation to it in a way Karen never could. But it's still a sensitive and important issue to me, so much so that I am almost irrationally sensitive to comments about women's weight and eating choices, be it assigning moral virtue to certain food groups (i.e. "vegetables are good" and "dessert is bad") or even the trends of juice fasts and cutting out entire ingredients like sugar. I still have to regularly check in with myself to make sure I'm not relating my clothing size or weight to my self-worth as a woman and a person.

Karen was very sensitive to reviews of the Carpenters concerts where the writers might call her 'chubby.' She was very concerned that her weight was linked to how well she could do in the music industry. This reminds me of a great blurb I saw last week on tumblr:
One of the most insightful things I've ever read about eating disorders and body esteem was a comment on my blog...The writer was saying that most people think girls want to be skinny because of Hollywood and Vogue. This girl wanted to be skinny because she wanted to be a protagonist.  
She didn't expose herself to mainstream fashion magazines or TV; she was interested in art films and books and indie music. But no matter how alternative the movie, the protagonist was almost always skinny. And wanting to be a protagonist means wanting to be someone, as most people do. Apparently, your story is only worth hearing, you're only someone, if you're skinny--it's like, the blueprint of a human. Once that's down, you're allowed to be interesting and protaganist-y as you want! Apparently. 
Karen had low self esteem to begin with thanks to all of her mother's attention going to Richard, and then she was brought into an industry dominated by less-than curvaceous women like Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Cher, Diana Ross, Joan Baez, Stevie Nicks, (all of whom I adore) the list goes on.

Many people consider the Carpenters much too cheesy-wholesome-saccharine to be appreciated or taken seriously, and it's no secret that I like a lot of artists given that kind of label. But there's something about Karen's voice and Richard's song choices that have embody a deep melancholy and pathos that, say, The Beach Boys' music lacks for me. Is it because I know about the tragedy of Karen's life? That for all we know (sorry, fellow Carpenters fans) she never truly fell in love (her short-lived marriage to a real-estate agent was doomed from the start in his keeping Karen from knowing he had a vasectomy and that he was in financial trouble) or felt loved the way she needed from those closest to her? Or is it just because she's an alto? I like to think all of the above.

Take the first song on Close To You: "We've Only Just Begun" (co-written by the amazing Paul Williams). It's about starting out on an exciting new journey with a new lover--yay!--but even when the tempo picks up I want to crawl into the fetal position. Is it because she never really got share horizons or found a place to grow with someone she loved? YES. So much of life ahead? No, because her life was cut so short! It's like any love song she sings feels full of her wishing and hoping to be happy and us as the listeners knowing this sweet angelic-voiced woman never found her bliss, or was even able to come into her own out from underneath the possessive thumb of her family.

For instance, Karen is perfectly smooth in her renditions of soft pop rock with the seamless harmonization Richard arranged. But on songs like their cover of Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe" I would have loved to hear Karen singing it with a bit more grit and emotion. It's a heart-breaking song, but Richard clearly removed its claws, making it come off as happy-go-lucky as can be. Listen to The Carpenters version, and then compare with the seminal recording by Rod Stewart. One of these songs has the mood of a muzak recording, and the other of someone trapped in a one-way relationship, but desperate to hang on hope that it's worth saving.

So I think there's an inherent melancholy in Karen's voice, but even in a song about actually being sad, it's been arranged to keep real emotion out of it. Like, it's pretty, but lifeless--at least to me. Now, for some reason their cover of "Help!" is not as problematic for me. And that's saying something because I generally can't stand Beatles covers. Somehow The Carpenters version tries to do something different with the song but keeps the spirit intact. It would have been fun to see Karen and Ringo play on this song together. (Also to Richard's credit, his organ solo is really great on this track.)

At the end of Side A we reach the title track, probably the Carpenters best known song. And it's fucking amazing. It's a Burt Bacharach (I love his duet version with Babs), so I never had a chance NOT to like it. Plus, this is the ultimate crush song. It captures that time when another person feels like a dream come true--too wonderful to be real. But it's still so sad! The opening and ending piano notes, and the feeling that Karen wants to be close to that person but we don't know if that person picks her over "all the girls in town." It's a heartache we know so well, and Karen is right there with us. Like, did you click on that link of Barbra singing it? You should have! Her voice is clear and bright and glorious, but it doesn't feel like a young girl with a crush, not like Karen.

Side B starts with "Baby, It's You"--a Burt Bacharach song best known (to me at least) by its Beatles' version. Do I like The Carpenters version as well? No. But it's slowed down to a mournful ballad that's very nice. Next up is "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" (Bacharach again, originally for the musical Promises, Promises) made most famous by Dionne Warwick, whose version is on most every mix I make. I also need to shout out to Elvis Costello's cover with Bacharach in the second Austin Powers Movie. Fortunately the Carpenters version is a bit sassy and cheeky and playful, which I did not expect. Apparently Dionne Warwick and Karen were very good friends.

Is This Better Than Fleetwood Mac?: I think song for song, no, but I'm so pleased that The Carpenters are ranked this close to #1, even if it's their only showing on the list. So since we won't be seeing them again, here are other Carpenters songs that make me want to stay in and drink a bottle of wine mixed with tears:

- "For All We Know" (aaahhh another song about new love that feels so damn sad)
- "Merry Christmas, Darling" (Don't get me started on the greatness and horribleness that lives on The Christmas Collection, side by side.)
- "Superstar" (which I always think is titled "Don't You Remember You Told Me You Loved Me Baby" which is just ridiculous--so many verbs! This version is always relevant as well.)
- "Rainy Days and Mondays" (Neither of these kind of days actually get me down, but thinking about them getting Karen down make me feel down.)

RIP, Karen. You are missed.



You have towered here
leaning half over the wall
all my awareness

years before I knew
what silkworm was or China
I felt your berries

pulp under my feet
tracked your purple all over
grandmother's carpet

a sapling planted
by some sea captain to make
shade for a future

This winter you lost
one of your long low branches
to a backed-up car

and the old woman
who has known you all her life
wept at the split wood

Your bark is wrinkled
more deeply than any face
you live so slowly

do our voices sound
to you like the fluttering
of paper moth wings

do we seem rootless
holding fast to the anchor
of the saddest things

- Craig Arnold, Poetry, October 2013

#175: Rocks by Aerosmith


Rocks by Aerosmith (1976)

Favorite Tracks: "Last Child" and "Rats in the Cellar" and "Sick as a Dog" and "Nobody's Fault" and "Get the Lead Out" and "Home Tonight"

Thoughts: We haven't seen Aerosmith since #224 in May 2012 with Toys in the Attic. Seeing this album made me nervous because Toys had two very recognizable hits to a non-diehard fan like myself: "Walk This Way" and "Sweet Emotion", whereas I don't recognize a single track name on Rocks. (The two albums actually followed each other chronologically in the band's discography too.)

The opening track, "Back in the Saddle" left me with low expectations for the rest of Rocks, but fortunately it got better from there. Steven wails and Joe delivers hot riffs (Hooks? Licks? Do they all mean the same thing?).

It's strange...I purposefully didn't want to watch these songs played live by the band (on YouTube) because I thought it would tamper with my reactions to the music itself. Like I knew if I saw the band on stage, rocking out and dancing, I would like the music more than just listening to it. Is that because I have a thing for rock stars? Maybe. Or is it because Aerosmith are great showmen, and so their performing PLUS the great songs is bound to make a better impression on a first time listener? Probably. But is that fair, to judge a studio album by it's live performances?

Anyway, I'm not sure why this album is almost 50 spots closer to #1 than Toys in the Attic. I liked it a lot and would listen to it again, but I'm not racing to get my own copy.

Is This Better Than Fleetwood Mac?: Not to me.

The Chair


Ache that clung
like a desperate lover,
bed left unmade,
nest of hair
caught in the drain.
Thin scorched moon
burnt into the counter.
You cook

what you like, close
thick drapes to keep
in the night, and if
you can't sleep
two fingers of scotch
swirled in a cup,
the chair where grief
used to wail, a shriek
so sustained you wonder
how you ever
got up, how you
could dress yourself.

Now, only
a slight indentation
in the gray upholstery.
The silence is holy. You sip
every drop, chew the ice.

- Ellen Bass



Such lies have been told about her.
My favorite: 'when she comes
The blue hand of the sky vanishes.
Hippos storm the sun.
Birds peck furiously at anthills.
Wings wrap tightly against trees.'
But notice how she doesn't say a word
And sits beside you when
The moments of love have flickered their last.
How she stands beside you when solitude
Has you cornered. Right now she is outside
Rinsing her hair. Later, she'll use it
To wipe the mirrors of your heart.

- Abayomi Animashaun

Gate C22


At gate C22 in the Portland airport
a man in a broad-band leather hat kissed
a woman arriving from Orange County.
They kissed and kissed and kissed. Long after
the other passengers clicked the handles of their carry-ons
and wheeled briskly toward short-term parking,
the couple stood there, arms wrapped around each other
like he'd just staggered off the boat at Ellis Island,
like she'd been released at last from ICU, snapped
out of a coma, survived bone cancer, made it down
from Annapurna in only the clothes she was wearing.

Neither of them was young. His beard was gray.
She carried a few extra pounds you could imagine
her saying she had to lose. But they kissed lavish
kisses like the ocean in the early morning,
the way it gathers and swells, sucking
each rock under, swallowing it
again and again. We were all watching--
passengers waiting for the delayed flight
to San Jose, the stewardesses, the pilots,
the aproned woman icing Cinnabons, the man selling
sunglasses. We couldn't look away. We could
taste the kisses crushed in our mouths.

But the best part was his face. When he drew back
and looked at her, his smile soft with wonder, almost
as though he were a mother still open from giving birth,
as your mother must have looked at you, no matter
what happened after--if she beat you or left you or
you're lonely now--you once lay there, the vernix
not yet wiped off, and someone gazed at you
as if you were the first sunrise seen from the Earth.
The whole wing of the airport hushed,
all of us trying to slip into that woman's middle-aged body,
her plaid Bermuda shorts, sleeveless blouse, glasses
little gold hoop earrings, tilting our heads up.

- Ellen Bass, from The Human Line (x)

Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim (2013)



Thank God I'm on tumblr. When I saw the trailer for Pacific Rim (and I only saw it once, which in this day and age is shamefully poor promotion for a summer blockbuster), I thought, "What are wonderful actors like Charlie Day and Idris Elba doing in this Transformers meets Evangelion* knock-off? And why would del Toro direct it?" I wrote it off as another mind-numbingly violent CGI copy of a copy of a copy.

And that's where tumblr came in. All over my feed I saw fan art for Mako, Raleigh, Newt and Pentecost. I saw quotes from del Toro about making the movie for his daughters, and discussions regarding the subversion of the average action movie tropes. It got to the point where I HAD to see this movie that I never would have gone to based on its advertising (or reviews) alone. (Spoiler-ish stuff ahead.)

I went to a 10:20pm showing last night, and not only liked it, but loved it. I cried, flinched, laughed, cheered, and blissfully lost myself in the story. As a fun, entertaining summer action film, I was reminded of Top Gun, Gandalf's battle with the Balrog, Jurassic Park, and some of the endearing corniness found in the original Star Wars movies. But it was a happy surprise to see there was more to it than that. I've not studied psychology in any real capacity, but I was intrigued by the theme of trauma, and the impact/benefit of sharing your traumatic experience with someone you trust. In the film two pilots man a super robot (jaeger) by connecting their minds, each operating as right or left hemisphere. When this connection (a 'neural handshake') takes place, they see and enter each other's memories and can relive their own in the mental space between them called 'the drift.' I loved that the film showed how vulnerable this makes each pilot, and how much their connection needs to be strong on an emotional level, not just in terms of combat instincts.

The character of Mako Mori was also a revelation for this kind of film. While the film doesn't pass the Bechdel test, Mako's character is given more than one dimension. It was so sweet to see her bond with Pentecost as father and daughter. The little girl who played young Mako--Mana Ashida--was unbelievably excellent. I sobbed through her whole scene. As a co-protagonist Mako isn't just the token hot chick who shows up to inspire the hero and prove what a badass she is. Mako does have her moments of impressing the audience and other characters with her abilities, but we get to see multiple sides to her: and none of them are a slow-motion pan of her body! In fact, as you can see from the pictures I posted above, the male gaze is subverted. Raleigh's body is given opportunities for ogling 5x more often than Mako. The most revealing thing we see her in is a non-cleavage-bearing tank top in one scene, whereas we see a shirtless Raleigh often (orphan?).

The choices for Mako's character (played by Rinko Kikuchi) were deliberately feminist. Guillermo:
"Thinking about it for girls, I have two daughters. One is 16, one is 12. And what I want to give them is the role model that can be a real character...We didn't just load the heaviness of the picture on Charlie. We gave everyone a moment. And we made a choice as we processed the movie to go for a friendship story, not a love story. So girls can also dream about not just falling in love with every guy who just seems to share something with them. It's a great story of friendship and respect and love, but the love of a colleague, of a pilot to a pilot...I was very careful how I built the movie. One of the other things I decided was that I wanted a female lead who has the equal force as the male leads. She’s not going to be a sex kitten, she’s not going to come out in cutoff shorts and a tank top, and it’s going to be a real earnestly drawn character..."
"I wanted to show that men and women can be friends without having a relationship," says del Toro of the relationship between the two main characters Mako and Raleigh. "Theirs is a story about partnership, equality, and a strong bond between partners. It's important for little girls to know not every story has to be a love story and for boys to know that soldiers aren't the only ones to triumph in war."
But if you haven't seen the movie, don't be misled, the majority of the film is robots fighting monsters, which is what initially caused my disinterest. I get sick of CGI so quickly. I'm fine with it in video games, but I miss the feeling of models and prosthesis and life-size mechanical props. But every now and then a world is created in CGI--ones that I've never been to before (so places like Middle Earth and the Enterprise don't count)--that feel real and exciting in their own right, despite (or because of) their CGI. Two past examples: Asgard in Thor (2011) and The Grid in Tron: Legacy (2010). I was not distracted by the CGI in these movies, but rather my experience was enhanced by it. Pacific Rim managed to do the same thing. And I think a huge reason why is explained in this quote by Guillermo:
“We spent approximately five months directing the film, the live-action portion of it, and another nine or 10 months directing the animation. Every time an animated piece would come in, I would comment on the weight, the physics, the placement of the camera lens. This is a not a movie where an effects house does everything. We were working as creative partners. That’s a big difference...I wanted the robots and the Kaiju to have the weight of their stature. Basically, we’re animating buildings — they’re 25 stories high. The way they move needs to reflect that mass, and that’s the thing (filmmakers) have the hardest times with. They don’t know how to root or anchor the model in gravity."
I get as annoyed by physics-defying CGI as I do by actors lightly handling coffee cups that are supposed to BE FULL OF HOT COFFEE. But the kaiju in Pacific Rim moved through space like beings weighing 2,500 tons would. They actually felt anchored in gravity. There's also the Doctor Who-esque question: who are these massive beasts we're killing? The film dealt with that as well: cloned colonialists**; not helpless, scared animals sent to a world where they're beaten to death just for defending themselves. But beyond that, the jaeger pilots and engineers weren't treated like military poster children. Guillermo:
“I carefully avoided the car commercial aesthetics or the army recruitment video aesthetics. I avoided making a movie about an army with ranks. I avoided making any kind of message that says war is good. We have enough firepower in the world."
But should we cheer as whole cities are rampaged by the kaiju? This is an uncomfortable aspect of action films. Watching New York be wrecked in, well, every action movie is not entertaining.  Our comic book/sci-fi films are hard to enjoy and eat popcorn during with innocent  unnamed people dying left and right. The trauma and effect that would have on a city is rarely addressed (though I felt young Mako's scene helped with that in this particular movie). Guillermo had an answer for this too--how do we enjoy a fight between a huge robot and a huge monster without ignoring the human cost?
"Well, kaiju movies by definition bring a completely escapist fun in these type of fights. When you’re a kid and you’re watching Godzilla stomp a bunch of tanks or jets or cut through a city, the proportions of these things are so enormous that you cannot correlate them to anything real. What I do is I then bring in visually a very different sense of style from reality. I have these super-colored lights illuminating the rain, so it looks like a living comic book or a living anime. And the thing that I do very, very consciously is I vacated all the streets so they would be empty of people. So you’re never thinking, “Oh, the kaiju just crushed 600 people.” Because the streets are vacated and everybody’s in a refuge, all they can destroy is buildings and vehicles when nobody’s there."
I was also much more engaged with the jaeger pilots than I have ever been when Tony Stark is in the Iron Man suit. I love him as a character, but I completely tune out once he's in the suit. Just seeing a close-up of RDJ's face reacting to things is not enough. The power between two people collaborating and looking at each other's real faces and encouraging one another is so much more compelling when it comes to people-in-metal-fighting-machines. And no, J.A.R.V.I.S. doesn't count.

I can't wait to see it again. Next time will definitely be in 3D.

(Sources:  x / x / x / x / x )

*I watched the first few episodes of Evangelion and was intrigued but I couldn't really get over the less-than-realistic portrayals of the female characters and their huge, bouncing, gravity-defying breasts.

**But then I guess that makes us move on from the Doctor Who question to the Battlestar Galactica question...



for Muriel Rukeyser

At home
in the countryside
I make the decision
to leave your book
--overdue at the library--
face up, "promiscuous"
out in the sun.


I laugh to see
this was our religion
all along.

even from ourselves
not to touch
the earth.

Years of white gloves
straight seamed hose.
"Being good girls."
Scripture like chains.
Dogma like flies.
Smiles like locks
and lies.

- Alice Walker

#176: One Nation Under a Groove by Funkadelic


One Nation Under a Groove by Funkadelic (1978)

Favorite Tracks: "One Nation Under a Groove" and "Who Says a Funk Band Can't Play Rock?" and "Cholly (funk Getting Ready to Roll!)"

Thoughts: We haven't seen Funkadelic since way back at #478 when we were young and naive and thought we'd finish this list by the end of 2011. Ha! But one thing hasn't changed: Funkadelic's ability to deliver a stellar album.

One Nation is funky, creative, and definitely takes the listener on a musical journey. The songs are pretty epic so I don't think they'll be added to my average playlist or mix, but overall it's an awesome album.

Is This Better Than Fleetwood Mac?: Not to me, but very good.

Embroidering Lady Gardens and Catchphrases Concerning Women of the Night

Hey, you! Do Georgia O'Keeffe paintings make you uncomfortable? Have you found that you and Pat Robertson laugh at the same jokes? Can you recall a time when you were offended by something I posted on this blog? Then maybe you should close this tab and come back to Maryannimal never again some other day.

I'm usually eager to share my embroidery projects on my blog, but this was the first time I paused for a second (or two or three) beforehand. Will people think these are weird? I know and admire so many fearless people, fearless artists. But when it comes to me doing something even the slightest bit 'distasteful' or dark I get weirdly nervous about people's response. I hope that's something I can outgrow the older I get.

Anyway, to the Craaafts!

This first one I saw an image of on the internet when searching for free embroidery patterns. Unfortunately for the life of me I cannot find the original image or its source. If you can find it please send it to me so I can post it. [EDIT: Found the original!] Suffice to say, this is not my original design, idea, or concept. I take no credit! I just really liked it and wanted to make one for myself.

The flowers in the original were much better, the French knot kind. I watched a ton of youtube videos but could not master the technique, so I had to go with my more mundane flowers:

They're still pretty cute, at least from a distance. Anyway, I don't think I need to go into some huge explanation as to why I thought this design/idea was awesome and I wanted to embroider it. I just think it gives a positive and lovely expression/meaning to a view (fat thighs included) and body part that elicits a variety of emotions and feelings for women. Some examples: pleasure, pain, shame, what it means to be a woman, fertility, health, age, etc. In a culture/society that likes to paint women as Madonnas or whores, the vagina is either the source of lust or the giver of life. Here, it's a pretty garden at the top of your legs. Fun and whimsical, but in a feminist way.

Speaking of whores, the second project is a lot less loaded. It's a quote from one of the best shows ever, Black Books. In the 2nd episode the main character Bernard is trying to do his taxes for his bookstore. His new employee Manny is a former accountant:

Manny: Well, the thing here...uh, takings... £370.
Bernard: That's good.
Manny: Yeah, but your outgoings were over £1200.
Bernard: Well...whores will have their trinkets.

I don't think I can or should explain why that's funny in its context (here's the whole episode, the above conversation happens at 14:30) but as someone who is pretty terrible with money and makes excuses for buying all kinds of non-essential things, I quite relate to the saying. So I embroidered it.

(I don't think it can actually be considered offensive to sex workers, but if it is please tell me.) And those are my latest embroidery projects!

#177: The Anthology 1961-1977 by Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions


The Anthology 1961-1977 by Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions (1992)

Favorite Tracks: "Never Let Me Go" and "It's All Right" and "Amen" and "People Get Ready" and "Move On Up"

Thoughts: Can we talk about a song on this album? It's called "I'm So Proud." Considering it's a doo-wop/R&B song from the 60s, I assumed the person the protagonist was proud of was his girlfriend. So, what might you be proud of your girlfriend for? Here were some ideas I had:

I'm so proud of you
You completed your PhD

I'm so proud of you
You finished that 10k

I'm so proud of you
You've been elected governor

I'm so proud of you
You're an unapologetic feminist

I'm so proud to be loved by you
because you're kind, spirited, and intelligent

Sure, I might have been shooting for the moon there. But the actual lyrics were worse than I expected:

Prettier than all the world and I'm so proud of you
I'm so proud of you
Your only one fellow's girl oh and I'm so proud
Sweeter than the taste of a cherry so sweet
And I'm so proud girl, I'm so proud of you
Compliments to you from all the people we meet yes and I'm so proud
I'm so proud, believe me I love you too, I'm so proud of being loved by you

Ugh. 'I'm so proud of MYSELF that I'm with someone prettier than everyone else! And girl you better stay pretty forever or I'll be embarrassed to be with you.' Fuck this song and fuck the culture and society it was written in. Harrumph, harrumph, harrumph. ("I didn't get a 'harrumph' out of that guy." "Give the governor a 'harrumph'!" "Harrumph!" "You watch your ass.")

Fortunately as time went on Curtis started writing about civil rights instead of extolling the prettiness of his girlfriend, like with the super classic "People Get Ready."

I'll be honest, I sort of rushed through this album. I don't really see why this was almost 300 albums better than, say, Golden Hits by The Drifters, which features a similar music style but with a much better catalog in my opinion. I suppose it probably has something to do with the culturally relevant songs Curtis wrote and their importance/impact on history. Which I totally respect, I just didn't find these songs as musically interesting as The Drifters'.

Is This Better Than Fleetwood Mac?: Not to me. Plus it's another compilation album, so it's an unfair comparison. Bottom line: I wish the album had been shorter, and I won't be adding it to my library anytime soon, but it was fine to listen to.

Tell me what is it women want the most?


Is it what most everyone says, a man,
a rich, kind, liberated man
who figures out what we want? Be honest
now, whatever our public politics,
is that it? Or do we most want power
over our men as I read in Chaucer--
the tables turned and set for us to eat?
Or is it kids? Biology being
thicker than history, each feminist
a repressed mother who'd be happiest 
with a family? Or are we fooling 
ourselves when we know what we want is love--
the problem is no one to ask it of.

My gay friends ask, Well are you gay or what?
And men agree we're friends, but don't I want
a man? Or husband, my mother wonders,
Don't you want children? My sister wishes 
I'd end up with a man who also wants
to change the world and is willing to work
for it. The two of you could do peace work
and stuff, she says, certainly you'd worry 
less if you were having more sex. It's weird
not to be with someone, man or woman,
even a nun though celibate is wed 
to Jesus Christ. What kind of a woman 
are you? I wish I knew, I say, I wish
I knew and could just put it into words. 

- Julia Alvarez, two prose excerpts from Homecoming

stormin' norman


#178: The Definitive Collection by ABBA


The Definitive Collection by ABBA (2001)

Favorite Tracks: "Ring Ring" and "Waterloo" and "Honey, Honey" and "SOS" and "Mamma Mia" and "Fernando" and "Money, Money, Money" and "Knowing Me, Knowing You" and "Take A Chance On Me" and "Chiquitita" and "Does Your Mother Know" and "Rock Me" and "Voulez-Vous" and "Angeleyes" and "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" and "The Winner Takes it All" and "Super Trouper" and "Lay All Your Love On Me" and "One of Us" and "When All Is Said and Done" and "The Visitors" and "Under Attack" and "Thank You For The Music"

Thoughts: Thank God (and Sweden) for ABBA. Pop perfection. Growing up I thought their only hit was "Dancing Queen" and it was just silly disco. Now I know they were some of the hardest working people in the music industry (their 'definitive collection' is a whopping 39 songs) and I fucking love disco. It makes you want to dance and have a good time. People who like to blame it for the decline of good rock in the 70s are ridiculous. There's plenty of room on the airwaves for music that rocks and music that makes you dance (or both).

Background: as I stated previously, the first ABBA song I knew was "Dancing Queen." Didn't everyone boogie to that at their church youth group's dances? No? Well, I did. I mean, the song is on the first disc of the Pure Disco series! It's serious. I myself used to own Pure Disco 2, which has my most beloved ABBA song: "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)." By day I was trying to hand out purity rings to my fellow high schoolers (slight exaggeration), but by night I would dance to pop songs about booty calls/one night stands. "Ok," I thought, "ABBA has TWO good songs." Then I saw Muriel's Wedding (who can hear "Waterloo" without thinking of it?) and finally I went with friends to see the touring Broadway of Mamma Mia!, and my ABBA love grew deep and wide in the span of 2 hours. Did I love the movie adaptation? Yes. Do I think it's better than the show? No. (More on that in a bit.)

So while I now know more than a handful of ABBA songs, I was excited to listen to this album and discover some new favorites. I must say that for me, the best part of listening to ABBA is the women's voices--Agnetha's and Anni-Frid's. Of course the guys wrote the great songs for them to sing and provided excellent back-up/accompaniment, but there's something about the ladies' harmonizing that is so unique and thrilling.

I know I already told you about dancing to "Dancing Queen" in high school, but then my freshman year of college my dorm floor and I did a routine to it in front of all the other freshman. It was terrible. My associations with the song did not get better until I saw Mamma Mia! (2008) in theaters. It's the moment (at 2:36 in this youtube video) where all the women on the island sing this song and dance down to the docks. When I was actually 17, this song was just fun and cheesy. But when you see a matronly old woman throw a bundle of sticks off her back and sing "Oh yeah!" it's as if the song has the power to transport any woman to when she was young and less burdened, free and independent. They throw off their aprons to go and dance with complete abandon. I cry every time.

Also, can we talk about "Does Your Mother Know"? That song is completely perfect. The Beach Boys should wish they wrote that song. In fact, I'm calling it right now: ABBA wrote better pop songs than The Beach Boys. BOOM! ABBA is underrated and The Beach Boys are overrated. Truth, double true.

But, back to my main beef with the film version of Mamma Mia!. In the stage show Donna sings this heartbreaking tune--"The Winner Takes It All"--to Sam in her room at the hotel as she gets ready for her daughter's wedding. She looks disheveled in her bathrobe midst the decaying walls of her hotel, the one she had dreamed of running with Sam. With this mis-en-scene the lyrics feel real and ring true: Sam is successful in his work and has his wife and sons, whereas she is alone, spread to thin, and barely getting by. She actually feels and looks like the loser. But for the film they decided to shoot the scene on this GORGEOUS rock face with unbelievably beautiful vistas as the sun sets. Donna is already dressed in her wedding clothes and looks stunning. Any empathy or charity I felt for Donna is gone--you see the breathtakingly awesome place she lives, her glorious independence and think, "Um, if this the definition of a 'loser' the rest of us are in real trouble." (Here's the movie scene in case you need a refresher. It's the most cringe-worthy part of the film for me to watch. Pierce Brosnan's reaction shots are the best part of the whole scene.)

Is This Better Than Fleetwood Mac?: As it's a compilation album it's not fair to make a comparison. But listening to it was pure delight, and these are songs that belong in every person's music library.



Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the dryer.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter's age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she's a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat--
the one you never really liked--will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours, for a month.
Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you'll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn't plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you'll come home to find your son has emptied
your refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up - drug money.
There's a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs halfway down. But there's also a tiger below.
And two mice--one white, one black--scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here's the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you'll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You'll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.

- Ellen Bass, The American Poetry Review (39:4, 2010)

#179: The Rolling Stones, Now! by The Rolling Stones


The Rolling Stones, Now! by The Rolling Stones (1965)

Favorite Tracks: "Mona (I Need You Baby)" and "Down the Road Apiece"

Thoughts: Is this really only our 4th Rolling Stones album? It feels like there's been at least 8. This album was their 3rd American album.

During the cover of Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me" I felt like I was hearing lyrics from the Beatles' "Come Together"!  I looked it up and Chuck Berry's music publisher sued John Lennon for copyright infringement!  Apparently it was settled out of court. Do you see how it's impossible for me to review a Stones album without bringing up The Beatles? Totally impossible.

"Down the Road Apiece" was fun--I could easily picture people dancing wildly to it. Other than that, it was a decent Stones album. It's pretty hard for me to dislike anything from 1965, but to say it belongs at #179? Puh-LEEZE. Far too forgettable for that ranking, in my opinion.

Is This Better Than Fleetwood Mac?:

Fabric Button Kits: One Of Crafting's Greatest Secrets*


*Or I'm Crafting's Greatest Ignorami. One of the two.

I haven't been super inspired to blog anything but poetry lately, and I apologize for that. Not only do they tend to be pretty sad, they are also probably violating various copyright laws that I will pay for later in fines and/or jail.

I've still been making stuff, I've just felt less keen about sharing it. I feel the same about what I'm doing around my house. I don't know why. I'm sure it's just a phase.

I can't remember if I've said so before, but now I cut my own hair. And I like it SHORT. Like, Judi Dench short. Wearing long, dangly earrings with short hair feels too fancy, so I prefer studs. In college I bought fabric covered button earrings from Anthropologie and thought they were the coolest ever. I'm sure I paid at least $10 or $12 for them, not realizing how simple they were to make.

Now I'm a button earring fiend.

Careful, they're addictive. I will soon have a pair for every day of the year. 

still we go on pretending stories like ours have happy endings


I got a call today that I expected but was still sad to receive. A month or so ago I applied through my employer for Long Term Care insurance. It's something I'd never thought of until my last two grandparents passed away, both in need of medical care and assisted living. Once I realized I could apply for LTC insurance through my employer, I became a bit obsessed. I'm in a place right now where I'm looking to my future, and what it might look like if nothing changed too drastically from how it is today. I know that seems ridiculous--I'm still in my 20s, how could I possibly think life won't change? But I own my place and like my job and love my cats, so short of something really unexpected, there's reason to believe I might continue down my current path--which would be great! I'm happier than I've been in a very long time.

So when I look to the years when I'll be elderly, I want to be prepared to take care of myself. I'm the youngest in my immediate family, so there's no guarantee anyone will be around or be able to take care of me or provide the help I may or may not need when the times comes. I've tried talking about this with some friends, and a few of them have had very strong reactions. They asked why on EARTH would I be worrying about this already? What a downer! The short answer is in two parts: 1) I'm terrible at saving money, and 2) I don't want to have to worry about how I'll pay for medical bills or hospice or a wheelchair or whatever when I'm retired. Maybe it's partially to do with the fact that I've been hospitalized and paid big bills and needed physical therapy aids like a walker and a shower chair. I've seen a glimpse of that life, and while I can't know that's what I'll need when I'm old, I don't want to worry about it. God knows if I will need lots of medical care when I'm old, and it's even half as hard to live through at 75 as it was as a 25, money concerns should not have to be on my mind.

LTC insurance would make sure I have a little nest-egg of money ready for me when the time comes, money I'll have invested in making sure the last season of my life isn't one spent stressed about health-related funds and taking care of myself. I've even looked up nursing homes to compare rates! I felt so much security and satisfaction in knowing 28 year old Maryann was looking out for 70 or 80 year old Maryann. My dad always reminds me to be my own best advocate, and this felt like a manageable and mature way to do that.

I was completely honest on my work's LTC insurance application, somehow confident that my employee status would make it virtually impossible for them to refuse me. So when a letter arrived last week saying I'd been declined coverage, I was pretty shocked. I thought they'd at least offer me a plan with higher premiums before denying me outright. But no. Their reasons for declining coverage: my spina bifida and depression. I was surprised that these two issues would be such major factors, since they are both under control and successfully treated.

I'm doing so well with both of them that I had the foolhardy confidence to think they wouldn't keep me from something as standard and everyday as LTC insurance. I mean, the chances of me a) living to old age and b) needing medical help/assisted living are fairly chance-y to begin with! Plus, I'm offering to give them money every month for the next 50 some years--would my spina bifida and depression cause issues in my old age all that different from the most common elderly needs? Apparently. Never mind that I could easily die in a car crash or a have a middle-age heart attack or trip over a cat and die on the floor of my bathroom and they would get to keep all that cash and not have to give me any of it back.

Shortly after the letter arrived so did an e-mail from my employer's insurance consultants with good news: I had only been denied by one company! They could send a generic form to all their other partner companies that offer LTC insurance. So with "cautious optimism and guarded hope" I submitted another application. Today I got a phone call from the consultant saying no companies would offer me a quote due to my spina bifida. "I told them you were back at work and in full recovery, but they still decided to decline." I could hear the sympathy in this sweet woman's voice, and with a giant lump in my throat I thanked her "for fighting for me."

Even though this isn't the end of the world, I'm feeling discouraged and disappointed. I wanted to try to prepare for the future and make a sacrifice that could help me take care of myself so I wouldn't be a burden on anyone else (or have to feel like one). So I could be confident in the knowledge that if even if I grow old without a family of my own, I'd be taken care of by younger past self who wanted old Maryann to spend her retirement savings on a tour of Venice or a bright purple couch instead of an oxygen tank or memory care.

If nothing else happens first, dying of old age is inevitable, and I just wanted to do something to make it even a little less scary to face, especially alone. How fitting, I suppose, that a birth defect (and the depression worsened by it) would be the thing to keep me from trying to prepare  for my death.

I've been soaking up a lot of Ellen Bass poetry lately, and this poem is one I'll be sitting with this weekend.

If You Knew

What if you knew you'd be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line's crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn't signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won't say Thank you, I don't remember
they're going to die.

A friend told me she'd been with her aunt.
They'd just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt's powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the dragon's spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?

- Ellen Bass, from The Human Line

#180: Natty Dread by Bob Marley & the Wailers


Natty Dread by Bob Marley & the Wailers (1974)

Favorite Tracks: "Lively Up Yourself" and "No Woman, No Cry" and "Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)" and "Rebel Music (3 O'Clock Roadblock)" and "So Jah Seh" and "Natty Dread" and "Bend Down Low" and "Talkin' Blues" and "Revolution"

Thoughts: Bob Marley and the Wailers! Huzzah! We saw The Wailers back at #315, but this is our first with Bob as headliner. Since the majority of my Marley exposure has been through greatest hits compilations, I'm glad I'm taking the time to listen to the individual albums.

This album was perfect for a hot sunny day like today, bringing the warmth into my air-conditioned workplace. I was really only familiar with the first two tracks, "Lively Up Yourself" and "No Woman, No Cry" though I have the more popular live version of the latter. The studio version was very sweet and pleasant, but lacks the power of the live performance.  Ok, confession time: I thought the sentiment of the title lyrics was if you have no woman, then you won't cry. Like, no woman, no worries! Which is ridiculous because all the other lyrics are about comforting a crying woman. So I'm not only hearing new music, I'm realizing obvious things too!

The rest of the album did not disappoint, as you can see from my favorite tracks. I know reggae isn't for everyone, but I feel like it creates a relaxing, peaceful, summer-y mood, and I love it. I think Bob writes the most groove-worthy protest songs, too. From "Revolution":

Never make a politician grant you a favour;
they will always want to control you forever, eh!

Is This Better Than Fleetwood Mac?: Just as good: super excellent. I would say that Fleetwood Mac had less songs I like, but the ones I do like I LOVE, whereas I only really love 2 songs off Natty Dread, but I like the whole album. Does that make sense? Bottom line: totally worthy of its ranking.

Goodbye Esther


Since I've been enjoying my evening swims so much I decided to buy a book I'd wanted for a while called Swim: Why We Love the Water by Lynn Sherr, published last year. It arrived today at work, and I took it over to my coworker Johanna to show it to her (and deliver a package she'd received). "It's even recommended by Esther Williams on the back--I can't believe she's still alive!"

"No, she died. Today, I think," Johanna informed me. I didn't believe her until she pulled up the news page. I JINXED ESTHER WILLIAMS. But since she was 91, I bet she was pretty to ready to go anyway. It's so depressing when golden era movie/musical stars die. It makes me feel old, which is ridiculous since I was born in the 80s. But most of the stars from the 50s were still kicking when I was kid and watched them in That's Entertainment (along with all their movies). I started her autobiography back in 2008, and still need to finish it, but my favorite sum up of her career will always be this one by Donald O'Connor:

RIP, lovely Esther.

Against Cinderella


I can't believe it.
Whoever made it up is pulling my foot
so it'll fit that shoe.
I'll go along with martyrdom:
she swept and wept; she mended, stoked the fire,
slaved while her three stepsisters,
who just happened to oblige their meanness
by being ugly, dressed themselves.
I'll swallow that there was a Singer godmother,
who magically could sew a pattern up
and hem it in an hour,
that Cinderella got to be a debutante
and lost her head and later lost her shoe.
But there I stop.
I can't believe
that no one but one woman in that town
had that size foot, could fit into that shoe.
I've felt enough of lost and found
to know that if you lose your heart
to anyone you've crowned into a prince,
you might not get it back;
that the old kerchief trick,
whether you drop a shoe, your clothes, your life,
doesn't do much but litter up the world.
That when the knock at last comes to your door,
you might not be home or willing.
That some of us have learned to go barefoot
knowing the mate to one foot is the other.

- Julia Alvarez (buy her books!)

"What will you tell your daughters in the future? About how to stay safe?"


"Pretty much what I tell them now...Don't talk to strange men."
 "Strange men?"
"...Any man."

If you enjoy graphic thriller mystery cop dramas like Luther, Wallander, and the new Sherlock, I highly recommend The Fall, now streaming on Netflix. It stars two of my favorite actors, Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan:

Gillian's is a not only a strong female character, but an outspoken feminist one as well. Happily, the BBC has ordered a second series.

#181: Fleetwood Mac by Fleetwood Mac


Fleetwood Mac by Fleetwood Mac (1975)

Favorite Tracks: "Monday Morning" and "Blue Letter" and "Rhiannon" and "Crystal" and "Say You Love Me" and "Landslide" and "World Turning" and "I'm So Afraid"

Thoughts: OOOHHH MYYYY GAWWWWD THEY'RE HERE. We made it to Fleetwood Mac. I would say 'finally' but they deserve to be as close to #1 as possible.

This is, in my mind, Fleetwood Mac's debut album. It's the first album with Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, but the band had made 9 albums previously without them. One of them is Bare Trees which I owned until I realized there was no Buckingham Nicks involved. I'm sure the truest of the true Fleetwood Mac fans will say they like the band's pre-Buckingham Nicks era, but to me that's like saying you're not really a Star Wars fan unless you also love the prequels.

Now, I remember the day I bought this album. Not the date, but the day. I was at our local shopping mall in the...Sam Goody. I know, I know--that store overcharged and was hardly a music lover's paradise. Sam Goody's is to record stores what Claire's is to jewelry stores. I would like to maintain that even as a teenager, my preference was always for Tower Records. We just didn't have very many nearby. Also they didn't sell a whole lot of NSYNC paraphernalia, which was a factor in my purchasing patterns at the time...

Considering where I bought the album, I'd say this puts me in late junior high, early high school. I may not be able to place the age I was, but I still remember going to the Pop/Rock section and looking in the F's. I don't think I knew that I wanted this particular album, I just knew I wanted one particular Fleetwood Mac song. Can you possibly even attempt to guess?

Yep. "Landslide." What adolescent doesn't hear this song on their local soft rock station late at night and become bound to it's melancholic reminder of her mortality? I needed it for my library. Fortunately at that time, that meant I got the rest of the album too! Nowadays I would have just downloaded the one song. Though I do appreciate that option when it comes to artists who have a harder time filling out a whole album with keepers.

Thus, my Fleetwood Mac love was born. Isn't "Landslide" everyone's Fleetwood Mac gateway drug? I like to think so. While we're here, I'm going to unload all my favorite Fleetwood Mac useless knowledge (of everything up until this album's release, that is) so if you're not at all interested, let me just say: buy, rent, steal, or borrow this album. Do it.

Where were we? It's a warm afternoon at Menlo-Atherton High School near Cupertino. The year: 1966. A few students gather around a piano. The tune "California Dreaming" by the Mama and the Papas is played, and two voices harmonize together for the first time: junior Stevie Nicks' and senior Lindsey Buckingham's. Not only their voices blended that day, but their souls and DESTINIES.

Two years after that fateful day, Lindsey invited Stevie to sing in his band Fritz. They went to college together, dropped out together. Then they began writing material together and in 1973 released a 10 track LP under the name Buckingham Nicks. This is the album cover:

Dirty hippies! Dirty, beautiful, talented hippies. My hands-down favorite track? "Long Distance Winner." Sunflowers and your face fascinate me. Brilliant. After the departure of Bob Welch (a former member) Mick Fleetwood was on the lookout for a replacement. He found Lindsey, who would only join the band if his girlfriend could join too. Thank God Mick complied! So. 1975.

I love the opening song, "Monday Morning." It's fun to dance and sing to, and has Lindsey as lead vocalist. It s lyrics also visit one of the major themes of The Mac: putting up with a duplicitous lover. Next up is "Warm Ways." Did I skip past this song most of the time on my discman? Yes. As you might have guessed, I really go in for the Nicks/Buckingham numbers. I like their style, their edge, their mood. Christine McVie and I never really connected. First of all, she writes songs with names like "Warm Ways." Ick. Some of the later albums will have songs of hers that I like (like the obviously great "Songbird.") But in general I prefer my McVie Mac to play in the background at restaurants instead of in my ear-buds while I write in a journal, or in the car when I'm rocking out. Will there come a day when her songs break me open? Maybe. But I doubt it.

So, "Warm Ways" is meh for me. While not written by Stevie or Lindsey, I love the energy and fun of "Blue Letter." A solid 70s folk-rock romp, expertly produced. Next up is the essential "Rhiannon." Our first Fleetwood Mac song by Stevie does not pussy-foot around: she is mystical, theatrical, haunting, and has talent cascading out of her tiny body. Am I afraid? Am I aroused? Both. Welcome to the power of Stevie Nicks.

I know South Park makes fun of Stevie for sounding like a goat, but the quality of her voice is so unique and thrilling. Her power and fearlessness in this version guts me. Also, can we talk about Lindsey's solo in that video? Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The whole band is on FIRE.

So then we go on to..."Over My Head." It's nice! It's sweet! It's high-quality elevator music to my ears. Maybe I'd like Christine's songs better if someone else sang them? Her voice makes me sleepy, but she writes perfectly decent pop songs. Ah, well.

The last song of Side A: "Crystal." It appeared on the Buckingham Nicks LP, Stevie wrote it and Lindsey sings it. Over 20 years later Stevie recorded it herself for the soundtrack of one of my favorite films: Practical Magic. I like both, but listen to the Stevie version much more often, partly because I prefer its musical production and the added emphasis she gives the lyrics. I always like to imagine this part was about Lindsey:

How the faces of love change, turning the pages
And I have changed, oh but you, you remain ageless

Plus the bits about being driven through the mountains to the sea--very Pacific Northwest. Let's all stop for a moment and indulge ourselves. (Yes, that is Sheryl Crow singing back-up.)

Side B! It starts with "Say You Love Me" which is one of Christine's peppier numbers. I enjoy tapping my foot to it, but it doesn't need to live inside my soul. Unlike the next song, the aforementioned "Landslide." People will maintain that The Dixie Chicks' cover of this song supersedes the original, and on that I call "bull" and "shit." I love the Dixie Chicks and in general I appreciate their covers. Their versions of "Rainbow Connection" and "Strong Enough" make me plenty happy. But I will TURN OFF the radio if their version of "Landslide" comes on. I am so committed and connected to the original that I want to guard it. I wouldn't need to if the Dixie Chicks' hadn't released it as a single. But they did. Harrumph.

The original studio recording will always be the greatest, but I happily accept and listen to the live version from The Dance when Stevie dedicates it to her father. In fact, having both versions is important as they sort of bookend each other.  In 1975 she was 27! Quarter-life crisis. In 1997 she's 49. The song still rings true, but with deeper knowledge of life and aging. Plus, the power of watching Stevie and Lindsey together on that song after being separated for so long and all they went through together...chilling and moving. Shall we?

Come ON. Lindsey's face at 3:31? Holiest of holy moments.

In fact, I'm totally unfamiliar with the last three songs on the album because I could never play past "Landslide." It's a show-stopper. Regardless, they're great songs, especially "World Turning" and "I'm So Afraid." Oh man, I'm so excited for more Mac to show up on this list.

Is This Better Than Bad?:

In fact, I dub it the new qualifier.

Song of the day.

Since hearing this song in a perfect scene from Fringe, I can't stop listening to it. I'd heard it before, but this was the first time I heard it. I've even made it my ringtone!

#182: Red Headed Stranger by Willie Nelson


Red Headed Stranger by Willie Nelson (1975)

Favorite Tracks: "I Couldn't Believe it Was True" and "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" and "Denver" and "Can I Sleep in Your Arms" and "Remember Me" and "Hands on the Wheel" and "Bandera"

Thoughts: We haven't heard Willie since #254, and I'm happy to have him back. I wasn't totally on board with the fact that Stardust was so far in as an album of covers, but Red Headed Stranger is original music--a concept album, no less!--so I left my gripes at the door. In the 80s Willie even starred in a movie by the same name. I haven't seen it. Have you?

Well, no matter how good or not good the movie is, but I can safely say the album is PURE GOLD. Listening to it was like sitting in a log cabin drinking whiskey by the fire. It's mostly about horses and women and heartache (like most decent country albums) but the gentle flow from the first track to the last felt like a leisurely--albeit melancholy--river float. It's not all-out depressing, but wistful and nostalgic. I highly recommend giving this album a listen--I know I'll be returning to it.

Is This Better Than Bad?:

A Woman Alone

When she cannot be sure
which of two lovers it was with whom she felt
this or that moment of pleasure, of something fiery
streaking from head to heels, the way the white
flame of a cascade streaks a mountainside
seen from a car across a valley, the car
changing gear, skirting a precipice,
When she can sit or walk for hours after a movie
talking earnestly and with bursts of laughter
with friends, without worrying
that's it's late, dinner at midnight, her time
spent without counting the change...
When half her bed is covered with books
and no one is kept awake by the reading light
and she disconnects the phone, to sleep till noon...
self-pity dries up, a joy
untainted by guilt lifts her.
She has fears, but not about loneliness;
fears about how to deal with the aging
of her body--how to deal
with photographs and the mirror. She feels
so much younger and more beautiful
than she looks. At her happiest
--or even in the midst of
some less than joyful hour, sweating
patiently through a heatwave in the city
or hearing the sparrows at daybreak, dully gray,
toneless, the sound of fatigue--
a kind of sober euphoria makes her believe
in her future as an old woman, a wanderer,
seamed and brown,
little luxuries of the middle of life all gone,
watching cities and rivers, people and mountains,
without being watched; not grim nor sad,
an old winedrinking woman, who knows
the old roads, grass-grown, and laughs to herself...
She knows it can't be:
that's Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby from The Water Babies,
no one can walk the world any more,
a world of fumes and decibels.
But she thinks maybe
she could get to be tough and wise, some way,
anyway. Now at least
she is past the time of mourning,
now she can say without shame or deceit,
O blessed Solitude.

- Denise Levertov

"The time has embroider FOR YOUR LIFE. Good luck, and don't f*ck it up."


(I've only watched 2 episodes of RuPaul's Drag Race, but I'm referencing it in the title anyway.) When looking on Etsy for embroidery patterns, I stumbled upon this mermaid circle/threesome/synchronized swimming routine:


I bought the pattern and filed it away for the future. I know what you're thinking. "It's not completely embroidery! Large sections of the fabric is...dyed?" You're absolutely right. I don't know how to do that! Plus, you know my love of satin stitches. So it stood to reason that the only color in my version would be from floss. If you're looking for a recreation of the above image, you've come to the wrong blog post.

So why did I have to embroider for my life? Why wasn't it regular, non-fatal embroidering? Well, I discovered my friend Lucy's birthday was coming up, and decided I wanted to make her something. But the days between that decision and her birthday left me with a little less than 2 weeks for completion. Lady With Flowers For Hair took me about 2 months. The logical thing to do would be to make a reasonably-sized version of the pattern for Lucy, say 6 or 7 inches in diameter. But I laugh in the face of logic--HA!

I stuck my fabric in a 14 inch hoop and drew a 12 inch pattern! Go big or go home, right? Of course, right! I  have few areas of discipline in my life, as I'm a subscriber to the idea that the universe/God/Satan/coincidences/reality/other people will throw enough hardship and heartache at you, so be gentle to yourself. The one real exception: I'm a bit of a masochist when it comes to crafts.*

I realize I didn't put anything in this photo that really gives you any scale, but the two wood blocks when together make up about the size of a lipstick case. And for all the frat boy jocks** out there who would never make it their business to know the size of a lipstick case, let's just say it's about the size of...a bottle of fingernail polish. ["Ha HA!" Maryann lamely laughed alone to herself. Bitterly.]

Lucy and her husband Kris have more of a neutrals/earthy palette to their beautiful home. When I originally bought floss for this pattern and the plan was to make it for myself, I'd picked out bright yellows, purples, and pinks for the mermaid tails. Less Peter Pan and more The Little Mermaid:

So I went back to the store and picked out the earthiest mermaid colors I could find. But because it was me, it still turned out pretty brightly colored. I split up hair and tail colors for each of the ladies, giving each mermaid a mystical name like Facing, Middle, or Away (just kidding--that's how I distinguished them in the pattern):

I would have taken in-progress photos, but good lord I was spending every waking moment stitching. On more than one occasion I stayed up until I heard birds chirping and saw the sun peaking through my windows. This isn't a huge surprise because I'm a night owl, but usually I'm not staying up THAT late. But my deadline and the stimulation of the project made me a bit manic. I now have callouses on my thumb and forefinger where I hold the needle (using a touch-screen phone with callouses feels WEIRD), and my thumb knuckle still hurts, even though I haven't stitched since Monday. I'm absurdly proud of myself for these crafts-associated 'battle wounds.' (See? Craft-Masochist.)

I'm less proud of how messy I let my place get whenever I'm working wholeheartedly on a project. A glimpse into the madness that is my living room floor right now (plus some gratuitous Norm tum-tums):

See all those little round bits of paper? That's what's holding the embroidery floss together when you buy it. Whenever I take them off I like to put them on top of the cats. The bits of paper are light enough that you can get like 7 on a Oz before he notices, since his fur is so long. Which means at the end of a project they've ended up scattered all over the floor until I finally go around with a recycling bag and pay for my Sins Against Catmanity.

But enough about my crafts-related mess, let's see the final product! Here it is, only seconds before the fabric was cut, and I put it in a nicer, smaller frame before whisking it off to Lucy:

Close(r) up:

As you can see I hand-traced scales onto each of the tails, which I am pretty happy with. I declined to give 'real' boobs to the blond mermaid because despite my previous claims, areolas are not for everyone. Or at least not everyone's home decor style. (This is no commentary on Lucy's preference for boob vs. boobless mermaids--I would have left than nippleless for anyone other than myself. Though Lucy, if you're reading this and decide you want some nipple-action, that can be easily arranged.)

My main regrets: 

1) I wish I'd taken the time to do natural light photos of the finished product. You can see some of the underneath stitching in these photos thanks to the flash.  I also wish I'd taken a photo of it in its smaller frame. The 'tightness' of the frame and stitches is cooler looking than the big gaps you see here.
2) SKIN COLOR. Bane of my existence. Lucy has two sisters (whom I love dearly) so I thought I'd give the mermaids the same skin color but different hair colors to match the sisters. But the skin color I picked is so fucking light! Unless you are up close to the fabric it looks like three floating tails and three floating hair blobs. Maybe if I'd given them shell bikini tops? Meh.
3) Faces. Faces, faces, faces. How to stitch a lady's face that doesn't look like a Kewpie doll. I'm not there yet. Fortunately I only had to do one face for this pattern. 

Other than that, I'm really pleased with how it turned out. I love the colors and arrangement of the mermaids.  As I drove to Lucy's house I worried about the possibility of her not totally loving it. I can see how needlepoint can be overly kitschy or cheesy for some people's tastes. If you make someone a gift and they don't love it, that can be...awkward.

"Sorry you can't return it. I mean, you could return it, but you'd be returning it to ME, since it's not from a store. I suppose I'd rather you give it to me than leave it at goodwill, but maybe instead you could leave it in a closet and only bring it out when I come over...? But that's a lot of work and lying on your part. So just give it back! But then I'll have it in my house and be constantly reminded that I made it for you and you didn't like it. HOMEMADE GIFTS ARE POISON TO RELATIONSHIPS!"

You get the idea. Fortunately Lucy's reaction was even better than I could have hoped. Her excitement when she opened it sent me over the moon. I spent so much time thinking of her when I planned and made the piece (that word sounds so pretentious when referring to art) that her wild appreciation for it gave me the greatest feeling ever. I love you, Lucy!

*And hair dye.
**You'd be amazed how many frat boy jocks read my blog. So many. The jock traffic is particularly high on the mermaid embroidery posts.